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Author Archives: suzannevanrooyen14

Film Review: The Martian

Back in March, I reviewed this book knowing I would eventually end up seeing the film, which I did!

The_Martian_film_poster

It’s a proven fact that any book-to-movie adaptation is going to divide an audience into those you think it was done well to the point of being fantastic and possibly better than the text, and those who think it was done badly to the point of being a travesty against the written word itself. It’s rare that someone who has enjoyed a book – loved it even – will take the middle ground with the film adaptation. Strangely, I find myself feeling about the movie quite the same way I felt about the book, which is that it’s helluva entertaining, but lacks gravitas, and thus I’m in that liminal middle-ground regarding this adaptation.

The Martian is Ridley Scott in high-gear, not quite Gladiator gear given a few peculiar editing sequences (more noticeable if you’ve read the book) and no breathtaking Hans Zimmer score to accompany it (I honestly could’ve even remember the music in the movie – composed by Harry Gregson-Williams who can certainly compose some awesome scores!). I actually went to the cinema to watch this with my husband who has read the book too and a few other friends, none of whom had read the book – so opinions after the credits rolled were going to be interesting, and I suspected, divisive.

So…

I enjoyed the film. It was funny, managing to capture quite a bit of Mark Watney’s humor while maintaining its PG rating, and Matt Damon did a good job of showing a more emotional-psychological aspect of the character. I still wanted more however. The tone of the film was kept light and breezey, at times even lighter than the book, playing up the absurdity of his situation rather than the serious life-or-death nature of Watney’s every action and decision. Consequently, the movie – like the book – was highly entertaining, but was a little disappointing because it seemed to make his journey appear a lot easier than in the book. What made the book exceptional was how it showed Watney’s thought processes and his step by step ‘applying the scientific method’ approach to everything he did. In the movie, much of his space-MacGyvering is whittled down to Eureka moments that never really show just how intelligent, adaptive, and resourceful the character is in the book. Those who have read the book will undoubtedly be disappointed that certain key parts of the narrative and some particularly nasty mishaps on Mars are left out of the film altogether. Because a lot of the method gets skimmed over, if addressed at all, there are certain things that simply are in the film without any explanation – such as the ‘balloon’ on the rover. This frustrated my friends who hadn’t read the book because they felt like they had missed something, and this frustrated me who had read the book because it was clear the movie-makers had missed something! That said, the scenery is spectacular and at no point did I ever not believe I was actually on Mars. For that reason alone, I am extremely thankful I went to see this on the big screen.

The verdict on this film is much like the verdict on the book: entertaining, engrossing while watching, humorous and good press for NASA and science in general, but not a story that will leave me thinking, pondering existential questions, or haunted by the plight of this lonely astronaut – all things I believe this story should and could’ve done without losing any of its cool sci-fi-ness. Still, this scores 4/5 ink splats.

4 inksplats

 
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Posted by on November 8, 2015 in Reviews

 

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Film Review: Crimson Peak

I don’t think I have ever been this excited to see a ‘horror’ movie before and man was it a disappointment.

*WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD*

crimson

Judging by the trailer, this film was going to be a campy, Gothic horror-fest complete with a haunted house on the bleak British moors and buckets of faux-blood. Actually, I was most excited for this film because it didn’t look all that terrifying (I’m a total wimp when it comes to horror) but looked more Gothic and grotesque, which I adore! So, off to the cinema I went.

Firstly, I remember now why I stopped going to the cinema and would rather wait for films to come out on DVD/streaming-sites. The inconsiderate asses behind me talked non-stop and even took photos of their popcorn (I just can’t even!!) with flash during the freaking movie!! My irritation at the selfish imbeciles behind me no doubt eroded some of the pleasure I might’ve derived from the film.

That said, it took almost an hour’s worth of two-hour run time to even get to the titular Crimson Peak! I thought the entire film was set in this rotting estate replete with bleeding walls, but nope, first we had to endure a bunch of back-story and long-winded set-up. By the time we got to the blood-soaked house, I was almost bored despite the charming good-looks and distinguished awesomeness that is Tom Hiddleston when he plays aristocratic British characters.

Now the house itself was spectacular and well-worth the wait, but what I thought was blood from the trailer was in fact red clay and iron ore leaching into the ground and turning it red – somewhat anti-climactic. And the horror of the house, combined with the appropriately unexpected frights courtesy of ghosts so grotesque they were more humorous than frightening, was pretty much all this film had going for it. I expected a lot from the story. I expected the house to be more, I actually expected it to be sentient. I expected the siblings to have a lot more going on in their past than an almost justified murder of a cruel mother and illicit love affair. Siblings falling in love is no longer as shocking as it used to be. Blame the Lannisters maybe, but this revelation wasn’t a revelation at all and the sort-of love scene between Tom and Lucille was barely a love scene at all, so the whole thing just fell flat for me. The only part of this story that horrified me was that Lucille murdered their mother at 14 when the mother found out her children were lovers. When Lucille was 14, her brother was 12. And they were lovers. People, THAT’S the true horror story!

Despite the underwhelming plot and predictability of the scares, the acting was on point for this penny dreadful-esque story and the cinematography was spectacular. Seriously, I would watch this film again (the second half) just to ogle the scenery and that delightfully dilapidated house.

Perhaps I went into this with my expectations far too high. I may or may not have confused Guillermo del Toro with Terry Gilliam, and when you go into a film thinking Brazil and Tideland only to be met with the guy who did Pacific Rim, well, it was my own fault really. That said, it was still reasonably enjoyable, although I don’t think this will give horror fans the frights they want, and won’t be nearly sinister enough to satisfy Gothic fiction lovers. Basically, Crimson Peak is little more than a flirtation with the macabre that’ll keep yours eyes entertained while you chew on popcorn. A disappointing 2.5/5 ink splats for this.

2.5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on October 20, 2015 in Reviews, Video Reviews

 

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Book Review: An Ember in the Ashes

I heard a lot of buzz about this book, particularly noted for its diversity and fresh setting. I couldn’t wait to read it, but when I did, I was left a little shocked to be honest.

*Spoilers ahead – you’ve been warned!*

ember

Laia is a slave.

Elias is a soldier.

Neither is free.

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

This book is YA, meaning it’s technically for teen readers about teen characters doing teenish things and dealing with teenish issues even in fantastical settings. And it was with that understanding that I cracked open the spine on this novel.

While I did thoroughly enjoy the Spartacus TV series (back when Andy Whitfield was the lead) and can generally handle the violence and brutality in shows like Game of Thrones, I was absolutely not prepared for the brutality of one of the very first scenes in this book. Remember this novel is aimed at teen readers… and yet, in one of the opening scenes introducing readers to Elias and his life at Blackcliff (much like the ludus in Spartacus only for kids as young as 5) a ten-year-old boy is publicly flogged to death by a commanding officer. I struggled with this scene. Even more so because the vast majority of the characters in the story seem so unaffected by the brutal abuse (actually, it goes beyond abuse really) of a child. A child! I should’ve known from this opening scene that the rest of the book would continue in a similar vein.

This book is brutal! The CO of this elite warrior school is an unapologetic sadist delighting in the continuous and brutal torture of slaves and Martials (the upper echelon attending the warrior school), even tormenting her own son! The brutality visited upon Laia is unspeakable and had me cringing for the majority of the book. If this were a movie, it would have to be R-rated for violence. But it gets worse, because the physical damage done by a sadist isn’t nearly as bad as the psychological torment Elias endures as part of the trope-ish three trials he is meant to pass in the hopes of becoming Emperor. The violence and brutality kicks up yet another gear to the point where I actually felt queasy reading some scenes and had to put the book down. I was so overwhelmed by the brutality, which often felt unnecessary and senseless, that when the few tender moments did happen, I was so relieved, I felt myself falling in love with these characters for the most minor of niceties.

Aside from the brutality – which I really shudder to think is considered okay for inclusion in a book aimed at young readers – the plot is complex and kept me intrigued. The main characters you couldn’t help but feel for given their circumstances and heinous mistreatment. I loved Elias and Laia although I could’ve done without all the convoluted love-quadrangling going on.

The biggest issue I had with this book was the constant threat of sexual violence against the girls in the story and the numerous near-rape scenes. Had there been at least one threat of sexual violence toward a boy (completely realistic) it would’ve perhaps felt more balanced, but as it stands, it seemed to be a stereotypical ‘boy taking what he thinks he can get without consequences from the weak and frightened girl’. Even the strongest female character in the book wasn’t immune to rape threats and that infuriated me! Why is rape always used!?

Had this book being marketed as adult or even new adult, I probably would’ve enjoyed it more or at least handled it a little better because I would’ve known to expect a different level of violence. There are several books with big cross-over appeal being marketed toward a more adult audience, books like Six of Crows and A Court of Thorns and Roses, and I think An Ember in the Ashes should’ve been marketed similarly. I was left emotionally damaged after reading this book and had nightmarish images of dead children playing in my mind for days after I turned the last page. Even as an adult book, I think this story will upset some readers with the amount of violence leveled at children. Did I mention a five-year-old little girl gets deliberately blinded with a hot poker as retribution for something an adult slave did? Yeah. Nauseating.

So, good plot, good characters, good prose if not very descriptive, and an interesting world with a slightly Arabic or Middle Eastern flavor featuring a cast of PoC characters, but it wasn’t quite as diverse as I was hoping. I kept waiting for an LGBT+ character to make an appearance but sadly, they never did. I find it really difficult to rate this book. I was intrigued, I kept turning pages – when I wasn’t battling nausea – and I did sort of enjoy it, but the brutality was simply too much for me. This gets 3.5/5 ink splats from me.3.5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on September 23, 2015 in Reviews, Uncategorized

 

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Guest Post: Literary Social Science Fiction

Today I’m handing over to Robert Eggleton, the author of the satirical Rarity from the Hollow, discussing Literary Social Science Fiction.

Robert Eggleton has served as a children’s advocate in an impoverished state for over forty years. He is best known for his investigative reports about children’s programs, most of which were published by the West Virginia Supreme Court where he worked from 1982 through 1997, and which also included publication of models of serving disadvantaged and homeless children in the community instead of in large institutions, research into foster care drift involving children bouncing from one home to the next — never finding a permanent loving family, and statistical reports on the occurrence and correlates of child abuse and delinquency. Today, he is a recently retired children’s psychotherapist from the mental health center in Charleston , West Virginia , where he specialized in helping victims cope with and overcome physical and sexual abuse, and other mental health concerns. Rarity from the Hollow is his debut novel and its release followed publication of three short Lacy Dawn Adventures in magazines: Wingspan Quarterly, Beyond Centauri, and Atomjack Science Fiction. Author proceeds have been donated to a child abuse prevention program operated by Children’s Home Society of West Virginia. http://www.childhswv.org/ Robert continues to write fiction with new adventures based on a protagonist that is a composite character of children that he met when delivering group therapy services. The overall theme of his stories remains victimization to empowerment.

rarity

Saving an entire universe is a big job for anybody, though. It takes more than just magic. Lacy Dawn needs a team and a very strong sense of humor. First, she motivates the android into helping her fix her family by putting her foot down and flat out telling him that she won’t save the universe unless he helps her first. The android agrees to the terms.

After Lacy Dawn’s father is cured of his mental health problems and stops being so mean to Lacy Dawn and her mom, Lacy Dawn next arranges for her to mother get her rotten teeth replaced, pass her GED, and to get a driver’s license. The mother feels so much better about herself that she also joins the team. By this time, the android has fallen so deeply in love with Lacy Dawn that she has him wrapped around her little finger.

Add a pot head neighbor who sells marijuana and has a strong sense for business transactions, Brownie, a dog who proves to have tremendous empathy for the most vile occupants of any planet, and Faith, the ghost of Lacy Dawn’s best friend who was murdered by her own father — the team is ready to embark on a very weird off-world adventure.

Working together, the team figures out how a few greedy capitalists had made such a mess of the entire universe and how to prevent its destruction without intentionally killing one single being.

Rarity from the Hollow is a Children’s Story For Adults. The content includes serious social commentary and mature satire. There are graphic scenes in the first chapters before Lacy Dawn’s family is fixed.

 

“…You will enjoy the ride with Lacy Dawn, her family and friends, but don’t expect the ride to be without a few bumps, and enough food to last you a long time.”

— Darrell Bain, Award Winning Author

Literary Social Science Fiction

Life can be tough, that’s for sure. Most of us need a break from reality at least every now and then, in one way on another, and to some degree. Of all addictions, reading is probably the least harmful, and sometimes it may be healthful or beneficial during our individual pursuits of happiness. Books present a terrific way to temporarily escape from the stress of real-life. Many people read “genre” fiction, like young adult, mystery, fantasy, or romance novels. Other people choose to read “literary” fiction. It is less about escaping from reality and more like escaping into reality, if that makes sense. Real-life issues, like racism or poverty, are often part of a character driven literary fiction story. Genre fiction tends to leave out such issues and is more plot driven with action and imaginary detail. While these two may sound very different, they share a common function — entertainment. Different strokes for different folks, right? I read both literary and genre fiction.   

Of course, some books don’t fit neatly within this or that box, literary or genre. Plus, there are a zillion subgenres, like paranormal romance or young adult science fiction and some of them may very well address the human condition, a criterion that some apply to distinguish literary from genre fiction, such as dystopian or utopian adventure stories. Sometimes critics will use the term, “popular” in reference to genre fiction. What about The Color Purple?  Few would argue that this story was both literary fiction and very popular literature. Plus, nobody really cares because it was a GREAT story, regardless of where it fits within the schematic. What the heck does “highbrow” mean? Is it a story with excessive adjectives and adverbs with a few big words thrown in? In my opinion, nobody writes any fancier than Ursula K. LeGuin, a genre fiction writer, and if someone does, I’ll just call it something that I don’t want to read, or write.

For me, if I privately reflect on the words of a story long after the last page has been turned, experience the magic of the story over and over again, I’ve just read a “literary” work. On the other hand, if I give a story little deep thought after I’ve finished it, that book may fall within “genre” literature. Any fiction story can have great (or poor) writing. Commercial or “the-most-popular-kid-in-school” type of fiction may not have anything to do with quality. Originality of ideas may set literary fiction apart from some genre fiction because genre fiction may be more likely to have fan bases, such those readers who are so in love with Harry Potter that no other boy will do.  

You know how two biological species cannot successfully mate? That’s not the case with book. Another animal exists. Its first name is “literary” and its middle name is the genre of the story. As examples, there is literary science fiction, literary fantasy, and, conceivably, any other genre. A story that falls into the “western” genre could have the first name “literary” if it has strong characters who address sexism in the Wild West instead of just more gunfights at the OK Corral.

I selected the SF/F backdrop for my debut novel, Rarity from the Hollow, because it was the best fit by process of elimination. While it is a fun read, the story does include early scenes and references to tragedy: child maltreatment, poverty, domestic violence, and mental illness in contemporary America . As such, it was not a good fit to the historical or western genres, although the social problems addressed in the story have existed throughout history, and are not restrained by our world’s geography, cultures, or religions. I felt that biographical and nonfiction wouldn’t work because the story would have been so depressing that only the most determined would have finished it. The story had to be hopeful and I especially wanted it to inspire survivors of child maltreatment toward competitiveness within our existing economic structures, instead of people using past victimization as an excuse for inactivity. I didn’t think that anybody would bite on the theme of a knight on a white stallion galloping off a hillside to swoop victims into safety, like in the traditional romance genre. That almost never actually happens in real life, so the romance genre was too unrealistic as the primary. There was already enough horror in the story, so that genre was out too. What could be more horrific than child abuse?

The protagonist and her traumatized teammates needed fantastical elements to achieve empowerment. But, as in life, one cannot overcome barriers by simply imagining them away. That’s where the science fiction came into play. It provided a power source. I tied the science fiction to Capitalism because in today’s reality it will take significant financial investment by benefactors to improve the welfare of children in the world, and to invest in economic development. As symbolized in the story, I feel that our governments are unlikely to fund effective solutions to social problems in the near future because of the politics. The systems in place to help victims of these types of problems are woefully inadequate.

At the 2013 International Skoll Forum, Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh reportedly said something like, “We have science fiction and science follows….” He heads a company that loans money to entrepreneurs who live in impoverished areas and who would not otherwise qualify for financial assistance. Dr. Mark Manary of America headed a scientific breakthrough in the processing of peanut butter that is having a significant impact on the social problem of child malnutrition. It’s called a ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) and is made in Malawi , Sierra Leone , and Ghana . The lives of thousands of African children have already been saved by RUTF. In the 1970s, Ursula K. LeGuin was credited with coining the term, “social science fiction.” It’s just my opinion, but I don’t think any of these famous people are talking about new cell phone technology.

Since Rarity from the Hollow has been pegged as drama, comedy, satire, horror, romance, paranormal, science fiction…I decided to tell the world the proper term for the kind of writing that I enjoy — literary social science fiction cross genre. How’s that for a mouthful? Despite the use of colloquialism, I consider my novel to be literary because there’s enough food for thought to last a long time. So what if there ain’t no fancy words in the story? I consider it to be social science fiction because the story not only includes social commentary, but needs science fiction to pull off its mission — to raise funds for the prevention of child abuse, yes, real-life kids, as real as world hunger. Author proceeds have been donated to child abuse prevention programs operated by Children’s Home Society of West Virginia. Maybe I should call my writing science faction instead of science fiction because the correlates of society’s failure to help maltreated children are fact: addiction, poverty, crime, divorce, suicide, mental illness…      

Read the 1st Chapter here!

Buy the book here: Amazon | Doghorn Publishing

An Excerpt from Chapter 13

Jenny (the mother) walked up the hill to Roundabend. She called Lacy Dawn’s name every few yards. Her muddy tennis shoes slipped and slid.

            I hear her voice. Why won’t she answer me? 

            “Sounds like she’s talking to someone,” Jenny said to the Woods. 

            Nobody responded. The trees weren’t supposed to since Jenny was no longer a child. Her former best friends had made no long-term commitment beyond childhood victimization. They had not agreed to help her deal with domestic violence in adulthood. She hugged the closest tree.

            I will always love you guys. 

Jenny quickened her pace, stopped, and listened for human voices. A few yards later, she stopped again.   

            Now it sounds like she’s behind me instead of in front. 

            Jenny looked to the left of the path.

            There ain’t no cave Roundabend, but there it is. 

            She walked toward the entrance. The voices grew louder and she looked inside. Lacy Dawn sat on a bright orange recliner. Tears streamed down her face.  Jenny ran to her daughter through a cave that didn’t exit and into a blue light that did.

            “All right, you mother f**ker!”

            “Mom!” Lacy Dawn yelled. “You didn’t say, ‘It’s me’ like you’re supposed to (a traditional announcement mentioned earlier in the story).”

            DotCom (the android) sat naked in a lotus position on the floor in front of the recliner.  Jenny covered Lacy Dawn with her body and glared at him.   

            “Grrrrr,” emanated from Jenny.  It was a sound similar to the one that Brownie (Lacy Dawn’s dog) made the entire time the food stamp woman was at their house.  It was a sound that filled the atmosphere with hate.  No one moved.  The spaceship’s door slid shut.

            “Mommmmmy, I can’t breathe. Get up.”

            “You make one move you sonofabitch and I’ll tear your heart out,” Jenny repositioned to take her weight off Lacy Dawn.

            Stay between them.

            “Mommy, he’s my friend. More than my friend, we’re going to get married when I’m old enough — like when I turn fourteen. He’s my boyfriend — what you call it — my fiancé.” 

            “You been messin’ with my little girl you pervert!” Jenny readied to pounce. 

            “MOM!  Take a chill pill! He ain’t been messing with me. He’s a good person, or whatever. Anyway, he’s not a pervert. You need to just calm down and get off me.”

            Jenny stood up. DotCom stood up. Jenny’s jaw dropped.

            He ain’t got no private parts, not even a little bump.   

            “DotCom, I’d like to introduce you to my mommy, Mrs. Jenny Hickman. Mommy, I’d like to introduce you to my fiancé, DotCom.”

            Jenny sat down on the recliner. Her face was less than a foot from DotCom’s crotch and she stared straight at it. It was smooth, hairless, and odor free.  

            “Mrs. Hickman, I apologize for any inconvenience that this misunderstanding has caused. It is very nice to meet you after having heard so much. You arrived earlier than expected. I did not have time to properly prepare and receive. Again, I apologize.” 

            I will need much more training if I’m ever assigned to a more formal setting than a cave, such as to the United Nations.

            “Come on, Mommy. Give him a hug or something.”      

            Jenny’s left eye twitched. 

            DotCom put on clothing that Lacy Dawn had bought him at Goodwill. It hung a little loose until he modified his body. Lacy Dawn hugged her mother…    

            …(scene of Dwayne, the father, overheard by those in the spaceship while talking to himself)… “Besides, the transmitter was part of Daddy’s treatment. There’re a lot of other things that he did to help fix Daddy. DotCom is like a doctor. You can see that Daddy has gotten better every day. And no, there ain’t no transmitter in you. DotCom figured you out like a good doctor and the only things wrong are a lack of opportunity and rotten teeth that poison your body. You don’t need no transmitter. He just gave you a few shots of ego boost. I don’t know what medicine that is, but I trust him. You ain’t complained since the shots started — not even with an upset stomach.”

            “He’s a doctor?” Jenny asked.

            “What’s your problem anyway?” Lacy Dawn asked. “I know.  You’re prejudiced. You told me that people have much more in common than they do that’s different — even if someone is a different color or religion, or from a different state than us. You told me to try to become friends because sometimes that person may need a good friend. Now, here you are acting like a butt hole about my boyfriend. You’re prejudiced because he’s different than us.”

            “Honey, he’s not even a person – that’s about as different as a boyfriend can get,” Jenny said.

            “So?”

            Mommy’s right. Maybe I need a different argument.

            A fast clicking sound, a blur of motion, and a familiar smell assaulted them.

            “What’s that?” Jenny asked. 

            She moved to protect her daughter from whatever threat loomed. Brownie, who had been granted 27 / 7 access to the ship, bounded over the orange recliner, knocked DotCom to the floor, licked DotCom’s face, and rubbed his head on Jenny’s leg. He then jumped onto the recliner and lay down. His tail wagged throughout. Jenny sat down on the recliner beside Brownie and looked at Lacy Dawn.

            “But, you were crying when I first came in. That thing was hurting you.” Jenny shook her finger at DotCom to emphasize a different argument against him.

            “Mommy, I’m so happy that I couldn’t help but cry. My man just came home from an out-of-state job. I didn’t talk to him for a whole year. Before he left, he told me that he wasn’t even sure if he’d be able to come home. I still don’t know what happened while he was gone. We ain’t had no chance to talk. All I know is that he’s home and I’m sooooo happy.”

            “Your man came home from an out-of-state job?” Jenny patted Brownie on his head, some more and some more…. 

            It’s unusual for a man to promise to come back home and ever be seen again. Brownie likes him and that’s a good sign. Maybe she’s right about him helping Dwayne. Something sure did and it wasn’t me. It is a nice living room. They’ve been together for a while and I ain’t seen a mark on her. That’s unusual too. He ain’t got no private parts and that’s another good thing. Hell, if I get in the middle, she’d just run off with him anyway. Id better play it smart. I don’t want to lose my baby. 

            “What about his stupid name?” Jenny asked.

            “I’ve got a stupid name, too. All the kids at school call me hick because my last name is Hickman.”

            “My name was given to me by my manager a very long time ago. It represents a respected tradition — the persistent marketing of that which is not necessarily the most needed. I spam…,” DotCom said. 

            They both glared at him. 

            “Dwayne is sure to be home. I don’t want him to worry. Let’s go,” Jenny said. 

            “Okay, Mommy.”

            “I love you, DotCom,” Lacy Dawn stepped out the ship’s door, which had slid open. Brownie and Jenny were right behind her. 

            “I love you too,” DotCom said.

            Lacy Dawn and Jenny held hands and walked down the path toward home. The trees didn’t smile — at least not so Jenny would notice. On the other hand, no living thing obstructed, intruded, or interfered with the rite.   

            Jenny sang to the Woods, “My little girl’s going to marry a doctor when she grows up, marry a doctor when she grows up, when she grows up.  My little girl’s going to marry a doctor when she grows up, marry a doctor when she grows up, when she grows up….”

 
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Posted by on September 15, 2015 in Guest Post

 

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Book Review: Fathoms of Fenlake

Today’s review is going to be a little different, because the book in question is a little different too. I received this book from the author for an honest review so here goes…

fenlake

Aigi’s journey into the mythical world of the Sami people starts with a race for the first ray of sunlight of the New Year, and continues with a plunge into the wondrous Saivo realm to search for a childhood friend. On the journey the knowledge of beings such as the gobmi, skammaidas and other fantastic creatures will surely be needed.

Fathoms of the Fenlake is a groundbreaking fantasy story. A solid nature connection, ingenuity and courage along with mystical powers have always been present in the Sami culture. The colorful pantheon has survived the attempts to abolish it, and the Aigi-saga draws from that legendary folklore. The bewitching novel will charm its readers.

Ante Aikio is a reindeer herder and modern entrepreneur living between two worlds himself, splitting his time between his company and his reindeer herd. Both are far beyond the polar circle – in the land of Sami mythology and tales. This is the one from the fathoms of ancient lakes…

*There are a few spoilers ahead*

This book is unique in that it is written by a Sami reindeer herder from Finnish Lapland and is all about Sami mythology, a mythology rarely seen (if ever) in mainstream fantasy. This book was originally written in Finnish and since my Finnish comprehension isn’t quite up to the challenge of reading a full novel, I decided to read the translation instead. I’m generally quite hard to please when it comes to translations and this book was sadly, no exception.

Firstly, I have to applaud this author for writing down what has, for the most part, been an oral tradition of story-telling. The Sami have a unique outlook on the world, their traditions entwined with nature-worship, and are a rather isolated group of people living at the edge of the world so this book has the potential to reach readers around the world, letting readers know that the Sami exist and that their story-telling is rich and profound.

Despite being exposed to Sami music while living in Finland and getting to know about some of their traditions during my studies, I didn’t know much about their mythology before reading this book. While I did enjoy getting to know more about Sami mythology and tradition, this book fell short of its promise.

This book is presented as an epic fantasy novel. It is not. Instead of reading like one cohesive story, the book is structured more like a collection of mythological stories as one might find in a non-fiction tome on the subject. The writing is similar in style to narrative non-fiction, heavy on telling and light on dialogue. This style does not make for an immersive experience. The main character is interesting and the story teases the promise of a Chosen One who has only to develop his magical powers. Sadly, this remains a tease and the character doesn’t do too much growing towards that destiny. Perhaps this was intentional, leaving room for a sequel, but this didn’t work for me. It seemed very anti-climatic when the main character, who could be a powerful sorcerer, doesn’t really amount to much at all despite having endured various travails in the Hero’s Journey tradition. This for me was the biggest disappointment and, combined with the dry prose, didn’t really allow me to enjoy the story that much.

Story aside, which will definitely be interesting to those who enjoy reading mythology anthologies, the writing itself made reading this book difficult. Perhaps simply a case of poor translation, this book suffers from bad grammar, tedious repetitions, incorrect vocabulary, and bland description. I really wish I could read this in the original Finnish to get a better feel for the story-telling.

As an epic fantasy novel, this story falls flat and would not easily rival the works of Rothfuss, Eddings, Lawrence, Erikson, Marillier, or, of course, Tolkien. While the story is rife with nasty beasties and liberally sprinkled with magic, the writing just isn’t up to scratch and the story suffers for it. As an experience in diversity and as a study of Sami mythology, this book excels, enabling global readers a more accessible means of discovering a relatively unknown culture. Perhaps I went into this book with unrealistic expectations. Perhaps had I approached this book as I would the a ‘Collected Tales of Greek Mythology’ I might’ve enjoyed this book far more. Regardless, I strongly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in exploring Sami tradition and mythology.

 
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Posted by on September 8, 2015 in Reviews

 

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Book Review: Shadowshaper

Look at that stunning cover! I didn’t even care what the book was about, I knew I had to have it as soon as I saw that cover and I dived right in without even reading the blurb.

shadowshaper

Cassandra Clare meets Caribbean legend in SHADOWSHAPER, an action-packed urban fantasy from a bold new talent.

Sierra Santiago was looking forward to a fun summer of making art, hanging out with her friends, and skating around Brooklyn. But then a weird zombie guy crashes the first party of the season. Sierra’s near-comatose abuelo begins to say “No importa” over and over. And when the graffiti murals in Bed-Stuy start to weep…. Well, something stranger than the usual New York mayhem is going on.

Sierra soon discovers a supernatural order called the Shadowshapers, who connect with spirits via paintings, music, and stories. Her grandfather once shared the order’s secrets with an anthropologist, Dr. Jonathan Wick, who turned the Caribbean magic to his own foul ends. Now Wick wants to become the ultimate Shadowshaper by killing all the others, one by one. With the help of her friends and the hot graffiti artist Robbie, Sierra must dodge Wick’s supernatural creations, harness her own Shadowshaping abilities, and save her family’s past, present, and future.

Firstly, hooray for having a character of colour on the cover of a YA fantasy novel!! Like a million stars just for that. Secondly, hooray for a diverse YA urban fantasy novel! Have more stars! And this novel was written by a real life Puerta Rican from the very suburb in which the story is set. All the stars, book, have them all!! I’m a huge fan of diverse books and an even greater fan of diverse books written by diverse authors.

But okay, onto the story. This was a fun, colourful, different and refreshing read. I don’t read a lot of urban fantasy but I happened to really enjoy the books by Cassandra Clare and can definitely recommend this novel to fans of the City of Bones series. Shadowshaper, however, was a lot more awesome because it felt so fresh. This novel presents Puerta Rican mythology to the reader, something I sadly knew nothing about until I picked up this book. And, despite having been exposed to a great number of books, TV shows and movies set in New York city, this story took me to Latin suburbs I’ve never explored.

While the plot is good and definitely kept me turning pages, there were times in the first quarter or so that left me wondering about the stakes and wondering whether the characters should be more concerned. Turns out they should’ve been, but the story takes just a teeny tiny bit too long to get started. Once it does, however, it kicks into top gear and doesn’t stop until the very last page. I loved discovering the shadowshaping world along with our narrator Sierra, who, having been denied her own heritage, wakes up to who she is on a lot of different levels throughout the story with the help of her wonderful friends and Haitian love interest.

What I truly loved about this book was the characters and the portrayal of Latin, black and mixed-race characters – nothing smacked of tokenism, every character felt real and necessary and an organic part of the story. I also received a crash course in Spanish and NYC slang. The voice is strong but not off-putting and Sierra was extremely relatable. I loved that she took charge and didn’t hesitate putting others in their place when they deserved it, calling out her aunt on racism, her grandfather on sexism and so on. This book explores feminism within the Latin community and closer knit family as well as what it means to be a Latin teenager growing up in NYC. It opened my eyes to a lot of things I never even thought about.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am really looking forward to reading more by this author, particularly if his future works contain more Puerta Rican mythology. Fascinating premise, great characters and superb writing, this book scores 4/5 glorious ink splats from me.

4 inksplats

 
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Posted by on August 27, 2015 in Reviews

 

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Guest post: The Difference Screen- and Novel-writing

Today I’m handing over to Glenn Benest, an award-winning horror writer whose screenplays have been directed by the likes to Wes Craven. Now Glenn Benest has teamed up with Dale Pitman, co-writing a horror novel called Ink. Here’s the blurb:

 

His studio has become his refuge and his prison – a place of boundless imagination and lonely isolation. Brian Archer, creator of a series of successful graphic novels about a vengeful supernatural being called “The Highwayman,” 
has become a recluse after the adoration of a female fan turned to rage and violence.
 
But all that changes when he meets a renowned and beautiful illustrator, A.J. Hart, who carries emotional scars of her own. Their work together is fueled by the unrequited passion they share and a mysterious bottle of black ink that arrives one day at Brian’s doorstep.
 
The impossibly dark liquid has mystical properties, making their characters appear so real they eventually come to life, reigning terror on those who mean them harm and if not stopped—threatens to unleash an apocalypse on all mankind. Brian must break free of his self-imposed exile and solve the mystery that allowed these terrible creatures into the world.

 

art1

Buy the Book

The difference between writing for film and writing fiction
by Glenn Benest

 

As you may know, I’ve been a professional screenwriter for many years with seven produced screenplays, including two scripts I wrote for acclaimed horror director Wes Craven.
 
We started this project as a screenplay and though we won a number for awards for the screenplay we never seemed to get it over the finish line. Our manager, Mary Louise Gemmill at Writers Ascending, thought all along it was better suited as a novel and with her encouragement, that’s what we did.
 
The difference between these two art forms is enormous, as my writing partner, Dale Pitman, and I discovered. For one thing you have to decide who is telling the story. Do you do it in the first person, the 3rd person, an omniscient point of view? This takes time and probably some failed attempts until you get it right.
 
But the great joy of writing fiction is that you can delve much deeper into the characters you’re writing about. You can expose their thoughts, something you don’t have the luxury of doing in film.  As a result, you really can get under their skin, what they’re really thinking when they might be doing completely the opposite of what they’re really feeling or contemplating. 
 
The other great luxury you have in fiction is that you can delve into the characters’ backstories in a way you can’t in film and television. We call this in screenwriting – exposition. And it is the hardest thing in the world to hide the exposition you’re trying to get in (i.e. what happened five years ago).  The reason for this is that screen story really bogs down when you go into some long-winded explanation of the backstory of your characters. You have to keep the story moving.
 
But in fiction you don’t have that problem. The reader is much more willing to let you write a chapter about what happened five years ago as long as it’s interesting and has conflict. The backstory brings so much more dimension to the characters than you will ever achieve in film.
 
This is probably why most people don’t like films made about their favorite books. It’s because the books were so much richer and had greater depth of character and texture than you can achieve in a film.
So was it hard to go from screenwriting to the writing of a novel? Absolutely. Was it rewarding? More than I can say.

 

Get in touch with the authors:
Glenn Benest
Twitter: @glennbenest

 

Dale Pitman
Twitter: @DalePFT
 
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Posted by on August 4, 2015 in Guest Post

 

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